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WITH ONE MOMENT of sublime improvisation, Simon Zebo dazzled the rugby world and stole the opening weekend of the Six Nations.
But Ireland coach Declan Kidney is confident that his young wing sensation won’t let the praise go to his head. After all, he is only getting started.
The potential of this 22-year-old old from Cork is old news to rugby fans, not least in his home province, but when he gathered Jamie Heaslip’s pass off the outstretched edge of his left boot in the build up to Ireland’s second try, Zebo made the leap from the back pages to the front.
Judging by the media attention he received this week, he has probably been on most of the ones in between as well.
The “Zinedine Zebo” flick was his highlight last Saturday but it shouldn’t overshadow an excellent all-round performance which saw him open the scoring when he was the beneficiary of an equally expert, if less heralded, piece of skill: a sumptuous off-load from Brian O’Driscoll.
By that evening, Zebo was the centre of attention with a brief stint behind the decks in Cork nightclub Havana Browns; his parents, Arthur and Linda, will have gotten a few phonecalls this week as well.
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But Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium was only the first stop of the journey and if there’s any concern that the green shoots of fame might snare Zebo, Jamie Heaslip was quick to put them to bed with a friendly dig.
“I’d question some of his dance moves and taste in music,” Heaslip laughed at this afternoon’s pre-match press conference. “He’s hogging the Bose dock that [Ireland bagman] Rala has for before training with some of his tunes.
“But in terms of being a professional on the pitch, training, you can’t ask for any more from the guy. He trains hard, works on both his strengths and weaknesses. He’s always striving to be better.”
“Whatever happened to that generation of 21 or 22, they were fairly born cool,” coach Declan Kidney chimed in. “It must be something to do with the Celtic Tiger or something like that, nothing fazes them.
There’s a few more. He’s pretty glad that Paddy Jackson has an injury at the moment because he was losing the rap-offs. Craig [Gilroy] isn’t too far behind either.
There’s a few smoothies there but we’ll try put a few rough edges on them before the match on Sunday.
More importantly for the coach, with Chris Ashton waiting on the Aviva Stadium wing, Zebo has shown no signs of easing up on the workrate that earned him this opportunity in the first place.
“He’s dealing with it very well, just getting on with his job in fairness to him. There hasn’t been a sign of a bit of difference.
“I think it’s one of the challenges for a young player who’s had a good game or two. Because that’s what it is — it’s a good game or two — and if they have a good head on their shoulders, they’ll say I’ve only played one or two good games, let me get a dozen or so of those under my belt and then maybe I can talk.
“But he knows it’s just one or two and I think thankfully, even though he’s been in it a relatively short time, he’s seen the pitfalls of it as well. He knows he has another few things to work on.”